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Wintry Landscape

The second and third weeks of January remained true to the winter season. Lots of freezing nights, very cold days, and that winter wonderland that we got to be apart of on January 17th.

We started off on Monday the 10th in the 20's, which allowed the accumulated precipitation from the prior day and week to solidify a bit. Because of this, we decided to hay feed the main herd one last time on the back hill. Dad told me that he was going to head to the the top and that we did. This was the first time we actually made it to the top flat bald. The clouds cleared for the moment and the sunlight was crisp and brilliant, so was the view of the Appalachian mountains. As by this time, and with the apex of the bald, we had completely exhausted all hay feeding spots on the back hill. We stood and overlooked and knew it was time for the cattle to be moved to a new area for feeding. We decided to let them start moving through parts of the airport field and in order to do this we got temporary internal fencing set out and were able to let them in by the afternoon hay feeding time. No matter what the new paddock area is, our cattle always get excited to be let into somewhere new. This stems from the rotational grazing that we have been doing over the last 2 years. They know that when I call them and open up a fence line gap, they are getting fresh new grass to graze and they run and jump with much excitement as they move into and through out the new area. This is one of my most favorite moments in farming actually. Despite the grass not being thick and lush and only slightly stockpiled, they exuded this same temperament when we opened up what I call the bottom triangle paddock. They moved through and around with such eagerness and motion. Dad and I were on the bottom end of this paddock and we were not able to see where the fence would cause them to dead end. For that short moment, I always hold my breath and hope they recall that they have been trained to adhere to the double wire electric fence. Sure enough, as soon as the herd had reached the boundary, they moved back down through the paddock just as rambunctious as they had moved in until they finally settled, put their heads down, and started to graze or nibble hay.

On the 11th, Eastenn Dutch and I whipped up a delicious birthday cake for Grampy, Dad, Barkley Mills...whichever name suits. Since we have lots of Heirloom Dutch Crookneck Squash stored away for winter eating, we decided on a Squash Cake with cream cheese butter icing. I love when I can make a dessert with a farm vegetable! Imagine a carrot cake, but instead of using shredded carrots just substitute with shredded winter squash. We lit the whole number 7 + 8 singles = 78 years and sang happy birthday and felt merry and bright. We all need to be celebrated from time to time and a birthday is a great occasion to show a little extra love, even if just by a simple homemade birthday dinner. I tip my hat off to Dad for his good health and for working hard and keeping the farm alive during many years of long days, not just of farm work, but of full time jobs off the farm. I am so thankful and proud to be able to call this place home again now, and that is due in part to my parents commitment to keeping the farmland whole.

The next morning when we ventured out to feed, I spotted in the distance what appeared to be one of our cows, off to herself, not with the herd. Until we got closer, I could not make out which girl it was. It was Magic Mamma, L24, named for her magic black spot. We started feeding and the closer I got, I noticed she had something long, dangling out her back end that was not a tail! Ohhh this was not what I wanted to see, no matter whether it was pre-birth tissue or afterbirth, neither was favorable, as none of our cattle should give birth to their calves this year until at least March. Our new bulls were delivered and put in with the main herd at the beginning of June in 2021, which dictates March as the start of our 2022 calving season. Sure enough, when I got right up to her it was afterbirth, which meant she had had a miscarriage and delivered a pre-mature dead calf. Close by, Eastenn Dutch found the dead bull calf fetus and it looked all intact-- not any missing parts, just small like a little pig, no fur.

Magic Mamma had given birth to her first heifer calf in 2020, "Mini Magic" and had another heifer calf in 2021, "Sultan Silkie". So, she had given birth to and raised two successful calves. Although, on the flip side, both those calves grew out to be the smallest calves of the herd. We could have culled her at the end of 2020 when we took animals to the stockyard, but despite her small calf record, we decided to keep her given that she had already been bred to calve in 2021 and because of some of her physical attributes...remembering, her given name of Magic Mamma had to mean something. Indeed, she takes really good care of her calves and

here to the left is a picture of her and her heifer calf, Sultan Silkie, in 2021. Unfortunately though, her calf was the only one out of all our 49 calves in 2021 that developed a severe case of pink eye in one eye that needed to be treated to prevent the lose of that eye. This along with her trend of raising out small calves made us wonder if she has a genetic predisposition of low volume milk and lack of antibody - immunity power - nutritional quality of her milk. Of course, I do not know her history any more than when my story started here at the end of 2019, but I can only deduce that something in her past on the farm here might have been under par. She was a small first time mamma, so perhaps she got pregnant to early, perhaps her metabolic processing of nutrients is out of tune, and because of these, has been playing catch-up ever since. Our vet has told us that when a heifer has a calf to young they could possibly always be behind. Maybe she just does not have the best genetics. Whatever the reasons, she for certain is without a clean cow slate, and one would say that the strikes are starting to build up against her. On the other hand, perhaps by flipping the looking glass, maybe in the realm of nature her slate is clean and the only way she could catch up was to not carry a calf for one year. Also, a cattle herd is only as good as the farmer's herd management, and overtime we as farmer's do not carry absolute clean slates either. Mistakes are made and sometimes our best efforts are not enough or perhaps are misdirected. Many uncontrollable factors go into the success of a cattle herd and a farm and sometimes we do our best and nature's elements just do no cooperate. The beef industry calls for tight reins on culling animals that do not perform on par, as the justification is in the prevention of lose of money and time. Most cattle operations follow the "one strike your out" policy and I know giving cattle second chances is not a norm. I have a hard time with that cold truth and we tend to not operate on such strict policy. Despite what I had observed about magic mamma's two calves, I wanted to give her one more chance with a new bull. I wanted to believe that with better rotations and better nutrition she would catch up. I knew I would never keep any of her stock, but I wanted to believe in her. As the day ended with the lost calf and Magic Mamma in my mind's and heart's eye, I was left in contemplation.

One of our regular chores is making sure the calves have plenty of hay in their hay feeders up at the Lacy Barn. We like to keep two hay feeder rings full and in function. The calves have a harder time than the cattle do of completely finishing a bale of hay. There is always good hay left in the center. Because of this, I like to get into the hay feeder rings and pitchfork the unreachable hay to the inner side of the ring, leaving a hole with me standing in the middle. After I get it rearranged, the calves completely finish the hay. On Friday the 14th, when I showed up to inspect the hay feeders. There she was, "Memorial Surprise", inside the hay ring, laying high, dry, and comfortable right on top of the loose hay heap. This was not her first time either. She is a regular at this, and really the only calf that has developed this bad habit. If I could change her name, it would be "Grandma Little". Her personality suits this name more than the name she was given. Her original name was given because she was born on Memorial Day. I took a picture and then made her get out. No matter how stern I am in the process, when the hay gets to the right level, she returns. I guess, who could blame her?!

On the morning of January the 15th, when I came down to start breakfast, I noticed an out of place detail at the kitchen door. The large pile of Dad's work clothes that methodically get placed nightly on the inside of the kitchen door to keep the cold from coming under the sill were gone. All that remained was the rolled up rug which had been scooted out and was laying at a slant, as if someone had exited and not returned. I wondered what could be going on. I am generally the first to make it into the kitchen in the morning, so it would be unusual for someone to have actually left the house at this early of an hour. Sooner than later, I heard a knock and sure enough it was Dad. With concern, I immediately asked what was wrong. Come to find out, he had awoken and remembered he had left a certain electric fence down and felt the need to go make it right. More than likely, it was in a spot where the cattle would not have roamed to overnight, but he knew it would have been grounding out; which lowers the electric fence's shocking power. His early morning outing in the cold was a success and there had been no problems encountered for it being left down. Speaking of fences, electric fencing is a constant chore within itself. I bet there is not a week that goes by on the farm without some sort of minor electric fence repair. More times than not, the problem is not spotted like a clear break. It is presented by the voltage meter on the fencer in the old tractor shed. Dad likes to keep ours always reading above the green, which is at the highest output of voltage. The whole green area indicates that the fence is working great, but when ours dips anywhere into that green area the problem has to be located. We have about 4 key gaps that help us narrow down our search. When a gap is opened, as long as the electric fence has a dead end at some point, that cuts the flow of electricity off going a certain direction. Having two people is a great help, because one can stay stationed at the fencer while the other goes out opening and closing gaps. Generally, this process helps indicate in what direction we need to head with our fencing bucket. Here, our most frequent culprits for fence damage are deer, tree branches, and old sections of barbed wire that parallels electric fencing. If one thought of the problem like an active board game, then possibly the hunt of the repair would be more exciting. Contrarily though, this is not our mentality. On occasion, an obscure electric fence problem can take many hours of a day to hunt down. This can be very frustrating. Frustration aside, when all is said and done, electric fencing should be lauded. I am glad it works for our cattle. I certainly would not want to be dealing with miles of barbed wire like my grandparents did in the early days. It is quick, light, repairable, portable, and fairly affordable.

On two occasions, we had 1 to 2 cows end up on the other side, greener that is, of an internal electric fence in the airport field. It always is an unexpected surprise to approach a large herd and see cows in an area they are not suppose to be in. Especially, when the fence has no apparent problem. The first escapee, was my favorite Black Beauty, L1. When we arrived to feed hay she was happily grazing on the thicker stock piled grass. The second escapees, were a pair, L15 and G27, and it was on a day that the ground was covered in snow and they were doing their best to snuffle with their snouts through the snow to reach the grass. Neither time, could we find any indication of their escape or falter in the internal electric fence. They either jumped or the herd was waiting for their morning hay in the clumped group format, right at the fence, and with a push and a stir these girls got backed up and pushed through the fence somehow. The internal gallagher electric fencing has a springy stretch to it that would allow something like this to happen. Both times it was an easy go getting them back in. Dad would start feeding hay and the herd would follow. Then I would go let down the fence in a broad area and the cows would walk right on over and back to where they were suppose to be, so they could partake in their morning hay.

We were all excited about the snow storm that was predicted to hit this area on Sunday the 16th and Monday the 17th. I guess because our grounds in East TN do not stay snow covered all winter, snows always seem like special affairs. My mom keeps record in her yearly calendar of all the true snow blizzards we have had ever since I was born. We have not had a true snow blizzard here since the late 90's and Eastenn Dutch and I are always hoping for one. We knew the precipitation was suppose to start on Saturday night, but when we awoke on Sunday the 16th it was a mere pellet like sleety snow that barely covered the ground. The temperature was right at 30 degrees and it was to be a dance above what it needed to be through the day for the precipitation to be snow instead of rain. Nonetheless, when we got to the cattle for the morning feed. They had the most beautiful coating of ice on their fur that I had yet to witness. We were down for 100% chance of rain and out of nowhere, the clouds completely cleared and all we could see for miles was a clear blue sky. The wind was gusting so strong that any last bit of nose drips we had got carried away. By the early afternoon the clouds returned, moving in from the North East, which gave us hope for that blizzard like Northeaster that still was to come. First a downpour of rain, then by about 4 o clock the rain had turned into a good snow. The snow continued to fall throughout the evening and we wondered how many inches we would have the following morning.

Well by Monday January the 17th, we for sure did not get a blizzard, but the snow for certain was more substantial than our other two snows we have had this month and there was just enough of it to coat the landscape. When we were out on our morning hay feeding rounds it started snowing again and this I liked because it gave that feeling of endurance. There is something about the performance of an absolutely necessary task, in an acclimate condition, that leads to this inspirational and empowering feeling. With that being said, I captured a glimpse of what it was like feeding all three cattle groups...the calves, the large herd, and the heifer group.

When we first started out, the Ford Tractor hiccuped a handful of times heading up the first slow incline on Hamilton Rd. Because of the extra cold morning, there was that glitch again. I was riding on top of the speared hay bale, as I like to do for fun. I focused my positive energy into the tractor knowing that we would need to make it up the hill if we were to fed the cattle. Sure enough, with question, the tractor made it. When we finally got to the top and Dad was about to turn into the gravel road, I thought we were in the clear. So, I decided to capture the snow scene. There I was paying attention to the camera phone and the beautiful scene and not my immediate surroundings. The next thing I new the tractor throttle seemed to lower and then speed up. I felt the bale of hay, I was sitting on bareback style, shift and move in an abnormal way. Of course, if I had been paying attention I would have immediately recognized what was happening, and agilely maneuvered myself off the bale. Since though I wasn't, I got bucked off unexpectedly and found myself in the grass on the side of the road. Luckily, I was not scrapes, bruises, or soreness. What had happened was that the three point hitch had lowered when the tractor about stalled. Dad did not realize this and so when he drove forward the bale of hay fell off the spear and rolled. Ironically, even though I have been riding these speared bales of hay all hay feeding season and everyone in the family has seen me, when we passed Matthew on the way out, he looked at me and told me he thought this act was a little precarious. I disagreed and we drove on.

After the winter wonderland cleared, the rest of the week was cold and dreary. We got the cattle moved into yet another paddock in the airport field. This paddock had better stockpiled grasses than the bottom corner paddock before, so they were happy. The mornings were consistently frozen and cold. With that, Eastenn Dutch self appointed himself to head out 5-10 minutes before Grampy and I, so he could start the engine of the Ford Tractor. When we said yes to his proposal, he took it seriously. This tractor in particular has a mechanism that when turned off, it has to be put in neutral and the emergency brake applied. Therefore, this was a task he could legitimately do without concern. Anyways, he knows the gears and insides of that tractor better than I do.

Despite the temperatures staying cold, the sun reappeared with brilliance on the morning of the 22nd. It appears that the sun is here to stay for the up and coming week. It sure felt good feeding hay on Sunday and what a great week we have to look forward to!

That wraps up the Foothill Frolic Farm's weekly Farm Post for the 2nd and 3rd weeks of January East TN farming glance.

Until next time, Eat Well and Be Well,

Allison Mills Neal

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